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…two words that bring fear to millions, words that many fear more than ‘tax audit’, or ‘some assembly required’, or ‘mother-in-law’. So, why would I bring up these words that make so many cringe? Because I just experienced that very form of dental torture, almost 24 hours ago now. I’d known about it for two weeks, and had been contemplating and losing sleep over it. I’m sure everyone has heard at least one horror story and has a pre-conceived notion regarding the procedure, as I had. I can honestly admit that I was VERY nervous, almost scared of going in. I almost backed out in favor of letting nature take her course with my busted grille.


I arrive about half an hour early; I do this because sometimes the dental tech will administer some sort of pain medication prior to the appointment, depending on the nature of the procedure. Appointment time arrives…no tech. I’m called in to the dreaded chair and seated…still no meds. I begin to get more nervous now. What kind of ass-backward place is this that offers no pain killers beforehand? What’s next…are they going to whip out a hammer and chisel to do the work??


The dentist (endodontist, actually) comes in with his greeting, “Ready to get started?”, which is doctor-speak for, “If you want to back out, now’s the time to say so.” If I back out now, I’ll have worked myself up over the last fortnight for nothing, so I manage to push forth from my lips, “Yep!” in an attempt to put on a brave front. Truth be told, I was seconds from panic-onset unconsciousness; if I wasn’t already in the chair with my legs elevated, I probably would have passed out on them.


Doc puts a swab coated with a very strong topical anesthetic under my lip in preparation for…the dreaded needle. It should be noted here that I have a pretty strong (but not outright) needle phobia. Immunizations I can handle. It’s other injections, like cortisone shots and dental injections that make me panic. I knew the shot would be required, so I was able to mentally prepare for it; that didn’t make any more desirable. The swab has had about four minutes to do its voodoo, and Doc returns for the shot…shots, I should say. Three separate injections.




I could see Doc going in for the injection, but I never saw the needle itself. I’ve taken to looking upward, away from the dentist while the shots are being given…I just don’t want to see it coming. He gives the first two, and leaves for a few minutes. Those first two are preps for the third he will give. That must have been some bang-up topical stuff, because I never felt the first two. When Doc returns, he warns me that I may feel the third one and how I might feel it, and I did. The third felt like it going through my nostril into the eye socket (I did try to warn you), but there was no pain involved, I just felt it. (No, it didn’t really go into my eye socket, it only felt like it did) Doc gives me five more minutes to let the last shot go to work, and now the left side of my upper lip, the area around my left cheekbone and my left nostril are all numb. Doc explains what’s going to be done, says it takes about 45 minutes, and begins. I hear the unmistakable squeal as he fires up his “404 circular buzz saw*” and moves in. I hear the drilling and feel the drill-generated vibrations in my head…no pain. He pulls out some other tool; this one rotates slower and is a rougher instrument for cleaning/prepping…still no pain. I’m thinking to myself that I may get through this alive, but I don’t want to get myself too excited; I’d spent considerable time and effort getting myself into a ‘zone’ and I wasn’t ready to come out of it yet.


About 45 minutes later, as estimated, Doc was done. He advised me about not biting or chewing with that tooth for about three days while the repair work set and the healing took place. He also said there might be some aching…that was the understatement of the year. There’s LOTS of aching. I was hoping my old standby, Ibuprofen, would see me through; no such luck. Looks like I’ll be making a trip to the druggist in the morning to fill that Loritab prescription after all. I just need to hold out for a few more hours and I’ll be feeling the power of Codeine.


So what can I conclude from this experience? Dental procedures are enjoyable? Certainly not. Dental procedures are painless? Well, this one was…the procedure part anyway. Can’t say so for the recovery portion. Was my worrying pointless? I don’t think so. In my opinion, worry is your subconscious’ way of saying that you should proceed with caution, and I think that’s a healthy thing.


I will advise that you should have your practitioner make time to answer any questions you have and discuss any concerns about whatever procedure you may be having. A good practitioner will be happy to do this for you, for they know that an informed patient will be set at ease and is much easier to work with than one who is uninformed and panic-stricken. If your practitioner is more concerned with getting to the next patient, or brushes your questions off as not important (or worse, refuses to answer questions), FIND ANOTHER PRACTITIONER. Remember, THEY are working for YOU, not the other way around.


*-For those who didn’t get the obscure reference, this is from a classic W. C. Fields short entitled, appropriately enough, The Dentist. You can find it on YouTube. Look it up, it’s good for a laugh.

February 2008
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